Hot music training in the Middle East

Musn O'Brien

Musn O’Brien

Musician Perry O’Brien is a member of the Band of The King’s Division. He was recently part of a short term training team along with members from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band sent to Kuwait to assist with music training of the Kuwait Army Band.

Maestro masterclass

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band were recently tasked to provide a short-term training team for the development and positive forward direction of the Kuwait Army Band. Aided by members of the Band of The King’s Division, a team of five personnel ventured to the middle-east.

Upon arrival at Kuwait Airport, we were hunted down in the crowd by Kuwaitis from the British Embassy. We were humbly escorted to the VIP lounge to drink Turkish coffee and Chai (drinks we were to consume thousands of during our stay) while our baggage was being retrieved and visas obtained on our behalf.  We met with our point of contact who briefed us on local etiquette, discipline and culture before moving to the Moevenpick Hotel. We were very well catered for at the hotel and we could see that the Kuwaitis were very grateful to have us over there.

Our first day with the band added another 12 glasses of Chai (an extremely sweet tea with extra sugar but no milk). We met the band who demonstrated their day-to-day schedule and performed how they usually would.  Their ensemble consisted of 2 ‘Maestros’, 17 trumpets, 2 Flutes, 12 Clarinets, 6 saxes, 4 Trombones, 3 Euphoniums, 2 Tubas and a 10-strong percussion section.

Our aim was to focus on the improvement of the ‘Maestro’s’ technique and confidence to enable them to carry on improving the band after we had finished our short time there.  This was no easy job for the Director of Music Captain Riley as the Maestros did not speak English. Captain Riley was no silver tongue in Arabic, either! However, the local translators from within the band did a fantastic job of conveying his lessons to the Maestros.

The band in Kuwait

The band in Kuwait

Short term training for the Kuwait Army Band

Short term training for the Kuwait Army Band

Almost instantly – with the help of the team sitting within the sections, a stern approach to reducing dynamics and the number of musicians performing at one time being decreased – we established the progression of significant musical improvement and our ambitious goal of improving the standard of the Kuwait Army Band soon became vastly more realistic. They already produce an incredibly high standard of pipes and drums so there was no reason why the wind band element could not be as successful.

By the end of the first week, the Kuwait Army Band had demonstrated significant improvement and set up a meeting to perform for the Chief Of General Staff, Kuwait Army.  With the help of the brass quintet and under the direction of Captain Riley, the performance was a huge success; The Chief of Staff was very pleased with the improvement of the band and it was clear to see that the work of the training team was having a monumentally positive impact on the standard of musicianship.

Back to the classroom

Over the next couple of weeks, we were hosted by British Officers of the British Military Mission. Our team formed a brass quintet to allow us to perform as a small ensemble whilst we were in Kuwait. We performed with dozens of talented British children to raise money for a charity supporting orphans in Argentina.  We also performed at the Raddison Club for the public and one night in the desert near Iraq, with cyalume® (light sticks) being our only source of light – this was the most interesting performance I have ever been involved in.

We were also due to provide musical support at the Queen’s Birthday Party, but this was postponed out of respect for the late Margaret Thatcher.

We visited Kuwait English School and The English School to deliver educational workshops to classes of children.  This added another interesting dimension to our already diverse visit.  The children thoroughly enjoyed our lessons on all of the instruments, even if it was just the teachers that were old enough to remember “Pigbag”!

Our drivers were on call 24/7 and had our every need catered for before we could even ask.  We were made to feel comfortable and welcome everywhere we went, visiting museums, bazaars, beaches, traditional cafés and impressive national buildings. There were only a few square inches of Kuwait city that we didn’t get to see!

Overall, Kuwait offered an extremely interesting and valuable experience to each one of us.  Not only did the Kuwait Army Band benefit from the effective and positive direction we delivered, but we gained a wealth of knowledge in return.  It was amazing to see the effect we could have on the Kuwait Army Band and to see their improvement as a direct result of our input. I suppose the 35 degree sun, incredible hospitality and interesting culture were the few added bonuses to a very rewarding mission.

Lest we forget

LCpl Damian Dunphy

LCpl Damian Dunphy

Lance Corporal Damian Dunphy is a trombonist with the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band (HC&C Band) based in Catterick, North Yorkshire. Prior to joining the HC&C Band on its formation in 2006 he was a member of the King’s Division Waterloo Band, and prior to that the Regimental Band of the Green Howards.

Having served such a length of time in Yorkshire Damian’s roots are well and truly established. He plays for a number of orchestras in the North East in addition to a number of brass bands, he is also the Musical Director of a local brass band and has conducted a number of other bands in the area.

Festival of Remembrance

As any military observer might imagine this time of year is a particularly busy time in the calendar of an Army Band.  The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band are no exception and have motored through the Remembrance season at Prestissimo tempo, if you’ll pardon the musical pun.

The Band have been in concert every weekend over the last few weeks in a spell of concerts which began with the Band straying from its traditional turf by crossing the Lancashire border to perform with the Band and Drums of the Lancashire Fusiliers at the Territorial Army Centre in Bury, Lancashire.  The concert was a fundraising event for the Fusilier Museum in Bury and took the form of a light-hearted foray around the films and shows, the audience were also treated to a black light drum display from the Corps of Drums, Lancashire Fusiliers.  A large and appreciative audience gave a very warm welcome and raised a substantial sum for the Museum’s coffers.

The following Sunday and with our feet very much back on our own Yorkshire patch the Band made the short trip to York to perform at the Festival of Remembrance.  This engagement is an annual fixture in the Band’s diary and for the past few years it has been performed at the Grand Opera House.  This year saw a welcome return to York Barbican following a long and extensive redevelopment. 

The event was organised by the Royal British Legion, who provided the standard bearers for the evening.  With commentary provided by Korean Veteran, John Hammond, the band performed alongside the York Philharmonic Male Voice Choir, York Ladies Choir, York Air Training Corps Cadets and Choirgirl of the Year, Isabel Suckling, who has recently been signed by Decca Records following a nationwide search to find Britain’s most talented choirgirl.

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band perform at York Barbican.

The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band perform at York Barbican.

This was the 21st annual Festival of Remembrance in York and the event would not be complete without the addition of Brian Coates, who provided a selection of jokes under the auspices of ‘The Old Codger’; it is not clear whether ‘The Old Codger’ is older than his jokes or not!

Poppies fell

On Friday 11th November the Band were engaged in what we often refer to as ‘bread and butter’ work. Catterick is the home of Europe’s largest Army Garrison and has an extensive training facility for Phase 1 and 2 recruits, Infantry Training Centre, Catterick (ITC (C)).  As you can imagine the output of troops from the ITC is prolific and the Band spend many of their Fridays on the parade square.  On this occasion the Band provided musical support for no less than three parades, on what was thankfully a mild weathered day. We would like to thank members of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland who assisted us with these parades.

With remembrance still very much to the fore, the following week, Saturday 12th November, the Band were once more in concert, this time at the magnificent Durham Cathedral.   The Band opened the show with a tribute to the ever popular Ron Goodwin before the remainder of the cast were assembled for an evening of music and reflection narrated by the Edinburgh Tattoo’s own Alisdair Hutton.  On this occasion the Band were joined by the Sunderland University Choir, Low Fell Ladies Choir and vocal soloists Graeme Danby, John Rowland, Julie Pendleton, Vicky Guillory and Alison Cochlan. As ever members of all three services were represented amongst the cast and members of the Royal British Legion poignantly lowered their standards for two minutes’ silence as poppies fell from the roof of one of the finest Norman Cathedrals in Europe.

The following morning the Band found itself unusually employed to perform at Catterick Garrison Church for the Garrison’s remembrance service. Since formation in 2006 the Band, and its Catterick based forebears prior to that, have performed in the military remembrance parade at the Memorial Gardens in York. This year however the Band provided musical accompaniment in a Garrison Church which was packed to the rafters. The Church has recently had its heating system renovated and it is something of a rarity to have the Chaplain apologise to the congregation for the excessive heat in the Church!

Prince of Wales’ birthday

Monday morning saw the Band making the brief trip to York to perform in a 21 gun Royal Salute alongside fellow participants from 5 Regiment, Royal Artillery, in the Museum Gardens. The Gun Salute celebrates Royal Anniversaries and is fired from a number of authorised Saluting Stations around the UK and one in Gibraltar. York is the only authorised Saluting Station in the North of England and the occasion this Monday was the celebration of HRH The Prince of Wales’ birthday.

Having had something of a hectic time over the weekend the Band are now enjoying a couple of days off before preparations begin for this weekend’s engagement at the Cenotaph in London, where the Band will be performing in support of one of our affiliated Regiments, The Royal Tank Regiment.